Finding Timeless

Do you ever find yourself getting burnt out by the craziness of “now”? Feeling detached from your own thoughts because of the constant viral conversations and noise? Have you ever longed to transport yourself back to another time (any) just to appreciate the simplicity of life again?
My husband and I are quite modern in most of our ideals but, by nature, drawn to “older” interests. We have both been told that we were born in the wrong time period. We gravitate to old movies – I literally can’t remember the last time we saw a movie in a theater. Our car rides entail older music (Dave’s into the ’80s, but can also get down with classical and Big Band, which I find an awesome spousal trait). When we take a vacation, we always make at least one historically significant stop along the way. We generally prefer older houses (although goodness knows what we’ll end up with during our current house hunt). The list continues on and on.   

So, today I’m sharing some ideas for anyone who may have had enough of the current fast-paced, do-it-all world in which we all seem to be swirling. Here’s how to add some timelessness to slow things down…

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Simplify. Okay. Look at a person one hundred or more years ago (or even less, actually). How much “stuff” did they own? Or, simply think about their wardrobe. One nice Sunday outfit, then maybe two outfits for every other day. A woman used an apron and petticoats so that they didn’t have to wash their dress every day. One pair of shoes kept cean.
Now, I’m not advising that we go to these extremes. But, consider this individual and ask yourself, “Am I any happier?” Life is easier thanks to modern day conveniences and we certainly don’t have to “do the washing” nearly as much. But I didn’t say ‘is life easier?’; I said ‘are you any happier?’ Big difference.
So, address your closets. Check out your over-flowing storage situations. Analyze whether or not you need enough plates, cups, etc to feed four dozen people. Is this all stuff that you NEED in your life? Does it make you happier by having it? If so, you may need to do some more soul searching to discover where your fulfillment lies. (We are slowly but surely making our way through our own stuff and, boy, does it feel freeing!)

Be mindful and let go. Common sense truly used to be a common trait. It was partly inborn, partly taught. I find that by being in touch with one’s surroundings and trying your best to be “present” in the current moment, we can find a lot of clarity – which, in turn, helps us make wiser choices. (There’s that common sense thing.) Try your best to be mindful and you may also find yourself enjoying life quite a bit more, as well.
At the same time, the current issues that people have are plentiful. Yes, there were issues many years ago (disease and mortality have always been problems, right?), but when they were problems, they were HUGE – think: the crops didn’t come in and we don’t know how we’ll keep the farm this year. Many of our current problems are self-made. Say you didn’t have enough taken out for your taxes and rather than getting that juicy tax refund (the one you’ve already mentally spent), instead you have to pay. This isn’t something to hold on to. It was a mistake — a mistake you made. Own it, figure out a way to amend it (in other words, pay the darn thing), then move on. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s yours. But, we all make mistakes, so it’s perfectly find to move on.
Learning to let go can be downright liberating. Mindfulness can help you connect to your life. Both awesome things.

Go green. It’s surprising (or not) how many of the “green” initiatives and suggestions these days are actually deeply rooted in practices that our great grandparents would have found to be the norm. Cloth diapering? Breastfeeding? Eating natural, home-grown foods? Finding natural treatments for minor ailments? Finding uses (and reuses) for things? Backyard chickens and gardening? None of this is new. It’s just starting to make more sense to people.
There are a million small ways to go green. So, save rain water. Start a small potted garden on your patio. Keep an eye on your water use. Eat vegetarian once a week. Or check out the many websites that have a plethora of other suggestions (of course, I’m biased and love Green Child Magazine and The Eco-Friendly Family). Every time I water a plant, I think about the backyard garden my great-grandmother fed her five children on.  

Step outside your comfort zone. Maybe your annual vacation consists of a nice long trip to a beachy resort with lots and lots of splashing fun for the little ones. This is an awesome way to recharge and get some fun family time in, but consider just trying one thing that might be outside of your family’s comfort zone, like a quick trip to a historic lighthouse for a guided tour or a stop by the visitors center to learn more about the significance of the area you’re visiting. If you’re camping, you may be surprised to find a gem of a museum right in the middle of the woods (my favorite is the Adirondack Museum). There’s often far more than meets the eye when you’re traveling, and you may find yourself with a deeper appreciation for your favorite vacation spot.
The funny thing here is that it’s often a battle with older kids (or your spouse) to take precious time away from one’s vacation for one of these stops. However, if you start your kids young with this type of activity, it will often spark a further interest in history of all different kinds; and older children ride along with a pout but before long are found with smiles and laughs while helping historical interpreters pour candles or test out an old trade. Now, it’s your job to get your significant other on board. 😉
Read. The best way to get in touch with the past is to get hands-on like with the aforementioned activities. However, arguably the second best way (I have friends who would claim it to be THE best way) is to immerse yourself in books that were either written during a past time period, are set in the past, or are about the past.
The cool thing about this tip is that if you’re a reader, you don’t have to change much. If you like a certain style of fiction, I guarantee that you’ll be able to find it in a historical setting (adventure, romance, science fiction, realistic…it’s all available in historical fiction form, too). If you prefer non-fiction, well, just head for ANY time period that sparks your interest.
The great thing about history is that you can tailor it to your interests: if you enjoy a good political debate, read up on American politics (things were just as raucous and rude 150 or 200 years ago, believe it or not) or even Greek and Roman politics; if you’re a world traveler, pick up a great piece on the turmoil your favorite country underwent in centuries gone-by; if you’re a crafty individual, grab a “book of receipts” (oftentimes a how-to book on how to run a house in the 1700s and 1800s, it’s quite fascinating and creative to see what activities were undertaken and how without electricity and modern conveniences), found for a steal on Amazon; if you’re into current Hollywood celebrities, try a biography on a classic starlet; fashion, try ANY historical clothing book. There are practically endless options.
If you’re not a reader, a lot can be said for “books on tape” (although they’re now downloadable in a variety of formats and available as CDs), especially read by a famous actor you’ll actually enjoy listening to.
Watch a movie. Wait, what? First you tell me to read a book, then you say to watch a movie? Isn’t that kind of contradictory? Nope, not really. There’s a ton of history in movies, whether they’re new films based on historic events or an old movie about, heck, anything, either way they can open your mind.
When Dave and I were just “friends in a show together” he got me an old ’40s film noir called “Scarlet Street” for my birthday. While it wasn’t necessarily my usual “style” of film, it was superbly acted and meant more than anything in the world to me because he realized I had a taste for the old school (ie he “got” me). Later, when we started dating, we enjoyed nights in watching, yes, the occasional “Family Guy”, but also movies that had a meaning to them, like “His Girl Friday” (Dave worked in news). Now, as our family has grown, we’ve raised our son with Andy Hardy movies and even a Fred Astaire clip here and there. It definitely pulls us not only back into another time, but back down to earth.
Learn about your past. You may think you know everything there is to know about yourself, and to an extent that’s accurate. But, you don’t fully “know thyself” until you are aware of how you got to where you are and how many people are really rooted in who you are today.
I’ve accomplished much of this by reading our family’s papers on particular past members, but also through my research on Discovering how many ancestors had hands in real, significant historical events is both humbling and heart-touching at the same time. It definitely forces me to consider what my effect on the world might be.
You don’t need to buy a subscription to Ancestry, though, to learn about your family’s past. Just start by asking questions: your parents (my mom somehow knows more about my father’s side than many of Dad’s siblings!), any living grandparents or aunts and uncles. They all have a wealth of information to share, and it’s often like chatting about old times (and people that were very dear), so can be a very pleasant conversation to have.
Try something an old way. My husband has forsaken his electric or disposable razors for an old-fashioned safety razor and brush. Aside from this method giving a good, clean shave and looking super cool on our bathroom shelf, it lowers our waste (yes, the razor part needs to be disposed, but if you rinse and dry it well, they last 5-10 times as long as they would otherwise).
We also wash our dishes by hand. I’m not sure if it conserves water, but we do our best to do so. We also don’t really hate to do it (most of the time) and it gives your mind a chance to wander. You may be surprised at how just-as-convenient some “non-convenient” methods can be.
Limit your online time. This is one that Dave and I still find to be a challenge, but we’re trying to be mindful (ha! See above!) about it. Unless I’m hunting for a recipe for dinner, my phone is away when the guys get home at night and doesn’t reemerge until after the little guy goes to sleep. It’s important to give your mind a rest and to remember that you CAN survive without checking Facebook or your email every hour (or minute).
Every once in awhile, I’ll do a tech-free day (sometimes without TV, most of the time just a little). It definitely helps to break the addiction and cycle of constantly leaving the “real world” for the “non-reality” of the internet. It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s not a real place to give every second of your life to. Your tangible reality – your family, friends, pets – are in the now and won’t always be there. Cherish the real world.
Go outside. While avoiding that internet time, try heading outside. You can be extreme and take a hike to a tall mountain or simply head to your back deck with a coffee, but there’s something refreshing and soul-recharging about listening to the birds, feeling a breeze, smelling grass and flowers. You may also strike up conversations with some unexpected neighbors, much as people once did very commonly. Just think about how much time people spent outside in years gone by and how, at the end of the day, the feeling of a day well-spent in fresh air must have filled their souls with such contentment.
So, here we have just a handful of ways to find and insert some “timeless” into your daily life. What are some ways that you hold history dear in your day-to-day life? Any suggestions to add?

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Crafts

Happy Friday the 13th! So, the one and only way that we get anything done around this place is by taking everything in several small steps. That said, it’s no surprise that I just finished our Valentine’s Day crafts last night. Under the wire, yeah!

I love what we did SO much and for several reasons. One, they’re completely handmade. Two, they’re 100% F-R-E-E. Three, they’re easy enough that even H and I could do them (albeit over several days). Four, and most importantly, they’re downright adorable.

Here are the Valentines we’ll be giving the special ladies in H’s life:

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All I did was give him a white piece of construction paper to paint. We stuck the paintbrush in a mix of white and red, then random splotches of magenta which ultimately gave for mostly pink splotchfest artwork. Then, just last night, I cut the art into three strips and free-handed Xs and Os (as you can tell…fancy) that I then glued to more folded white construction paper. Instant card!

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The fact that he wears my old theater shirt from my high school senior year as a smock melts my heart. That thing has splatters from every set I ever painted, and now splatters from every piece of art he has done.

Anyhoo, I love that this art was free form and simple. The only instruction he needed was “here’s some paint, go at it!” He’s still not great at taking directions, so the fact that I took what he created and made it into something practical is pretty rad. Oh, and it has a total Eric Carle vibe to it, which I absolutely adore.

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In that last picture you’ll also notice a rainbow heart stack. We started with this tutorial and simplified it to only a few colors. Simply put, I cut down a diaper box into 1″, 2″, 3″, 4″ and 5″ squares, had him paint them, cut them into hearts and glued them together. Then, I punctured holes on the top and strung them with some kitchen twine, and ta-da! Cute little decoration and gift in one.

So, that’s it! Cards and hanging hearts, but they were made with pudgy little fingers and love.

Did you make anything homemade to celebrate V-Day? Food? Gift? Do tell!
(I’ll be back tomorrow with my clean eating challenge. Half way, folks!)

Today’s Tip: Prep Once, Eat Twice

This is a new series that I’m lamely calling “Today’s Tip.” I’m hoping to share little tips and tricks (or “life hacks” as the kids these days are saying) to make your life just a wee bit simpler. The topics will range from parenting to cleaning to green living to just general time savers…and anything else that pops into my brain. 

Happy Monday, guys! “Today’s Tip” has been a time-saver and an early morning stress-reducer at our house, so maybe it’ll do the same for you.

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With our food challenges lately, I’ve definitely been spending more time in the kitchen. It’s actually a good thing, because I’m starting to plan far better and actually end up getting a lot more accomplished in the time that I’m in there cooking. Because of this, our lunches have had a higher quality and have been, in fact, easier to throw together. 

And did I mention healthier? They’re healthier. Just thought I’d put that out there.

If I happen to be making a salad, either to go alongside dinner or as the main event, I’m sure to grab one or two of our glass containers (a lot like these ones) to make perfect lunch-sized salads. It hardly takes an extra 30 seconds per salad, and all I need to do is pour some oil/vinegar/seasonings into our small mason jars (unless I’m REALLY on top of things and do that while I’m prepping dinner, too) and grab a couple other lunch sides to round out the meal.

The same goes with dinners, in general. Most of the time, I try to make more than what we’ll eat in one dinner. (There are times that it backfires and the meal is so awesome that we attack the rest of it before making up lunches, but it’s not the end of the world.) So, if I make stir-fry, I make extra and toss it into containers. The next day, I just have to grab an apple, a granola bar, and maybe a handful of veggie sticks (which I also cut all at once in the beginning of the week and store in the fridge when I remember to) and — TADA! Quick lunch. 

Super simple, right? Do you already do this? Do you have any extra tips for making lunch a fast, easy process? Share in the comments!

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A Fun Holiday Game

Happy Black Friday, y’all! I hope you had a wonderful time yesterday and stuffed your bellies to capacity (while giving lots of thanks for all we’re lucky enough to have…of course ;-)). Anyone doing a bit of shopping today, or are you officially getting the heck out of the way of the crazy shoppers?

Anyhoo, last week I posted a bit novel about how to keep the holidays relatively low-stress and simple. This week, it’s all about how we have fun – namely, a simple (there’s that word again) yet fun game that my mom discovered a few years back that we look forward to every year.

This is an awesome game involving gifts that you could play at a friends-only shindig, or at your annual family get-together. It can be adjusted to whatever your needs are. Whatever floats your boat!

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Here’s what you need:

– One gift for each person in attendance (small, inexpensive, fun gifts)
– Two decks of cards

Yup, that’s all. My mother buys one gift for each individual and jots their name on the package (under a taped-on piece of matching wrapping), but you could buy a bunch of random doesn’t-matter-who-gets-what items. You could also put instructions on people’s invitations to bring one random $10 or less gift, wrapped. (If you do this, buy an extra one or two to have on hand in case *someone* spoils the party and forgets. Ahem. Nudge.) If you have guests do this, however, take a pen and write someone’s name (not the person who brought it) at the bottom of the gift. It tends to be difficult to see, on purpose.

So, when it’s time to get the game going, put all the gifts in the middle of the room and have a helper (this is our niece’s job) hand out cards to everyone in attendance (everyone should get 2-4, or more, depending on the size of the crowd). The person in charge (my mom) uses a separate deck to call one card at a time. When she calls your card, it’s your turn to select — either grab from the pile, or steal from someone in the group.

Guys. Seriously. This can be HILARIOUS or cut-throat…or both. It’s fun to see who ends up with what, and who fights over an oddly-shaped gift.

Oh, yeah, that’s important, too. You can either wrap things normally, or get tricky. (Like putting something that rattles in with a pair of socks, in a super huge box, so when people shake it they’re clueless about what’s in there.)

In the end, we look at the names on the bottoms of the gifts and hand them out appropriately, waiting to see what that strangely-shaped item really contains. Sometimes Mom will get all the girls the same thing, but the way they’re wrapped, they look totally different. Other times, everyone has a different item.

So, what do you think? Sound fun? Does your family do any fun holiday games? Please share! My mom’s always on the lookout for a simple addition to the fun. 😉

The Thankful Post

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everybody! Things have finally died down here, with the Book Fair complete for another year and a few days off to enjoy the holiday. I get to hang out with the little guy today while Dave works one more day, then tomorrow it’s time to watch the parade (one of my favorite parts of the day! Especially the Broadway performances), eat a big breakfast, then head off to eat with our families for the “big meal” and dessert.

We’ve talked to Monkey about what this special holiday means, and it’s been a great opportunity to open his mind to the idea that we’ve super lucky (and some people aren’t). It looked like I nearly blew his mind when I explained to him that we’re so very lucky to have a house and food, and that some people, even little two-year-old boys, DON’T. *kerpow*

I thought it’d be fun to share a couple of simple, last-minute ideas for the holiday to help friends and family get hands-on sharing their thankfulness this Thanksgiving. This year, we’ll just be having a family talk or two about the things that we’re lucky and happy about, but I can’t wait to try some of these out in the future!

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Some of these are simple enough to throw together in less than fifteen minutes, and will help you and your guests remember – amid the craziness of getting a meal together and trying to pull everything together – that the day is about more than perfecting your recipes and using your best china. And feel free to use these as jumping off points; do whatchya can!

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Thankful Tree

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Brown Paper Thankfulness

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Gratitude Jar (and Chains)
(With free printable! Couldn’t be easier, really.)

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Thankful Chalkboard Wall
(Could also be brown paper on the wall, easy peasy!
And I’d suggest using an old chalkboard if you have one, but that depends on if you’re cooking a turkey and have the time to make one from scratch. ;-))

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Thanksgiving Light
(You could also do this on a white paper bag half-filled with sand. Just insert a candle and light. Luminaries always make me cry, but that’s another story!)

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Frame of Blessings

Or, after discussing your blessings, have a “did you know” session about the history of Thanksgiving. Watch this brief video for a bit of the background. (They didn’t have pumpkin pie or sweetened cranberries due to the lack of sugar in the “new land.”) It’s also a good reminder of the original natives who were trusting enough to help the Puritans settle and successfully plant in their new, treacherous conditions. Anyhoo, we’re weird; we watch a different, lengthier documentary every year (sometimes twice) about Thanksgiving (and Halloween and Christmas, for that matter.) You could turn it into a Trivial Pursuit type game, if your guests are into it!

However you celebrate, whether you’re giving thanks openly (saying “grace” always made me terribly nervous as a kid!) or just using the holiday as an excuse to enjoy a great meal with your favorite people, my family and I wish you the happiest of days!

Our Makeshift Kitchen

Given Hadley’s propensity for pretending to be a cook with his beloved play food, I’ve been jonesin’ to get him (or, more likely, make him) a play kitchen for, like, ever. But, it’s kind of useless in our house. We live in just shy of 1,000 square feet and, while it works now, there’s not a ton of “just his” play space. It’s one of the things we’ll be looking for when we eventually move, hopefully in 2015.

But, for now, we’ve gotten creative. We use bins and baskets to store most of his toys, but his “food” and anything he likes to use with it (like empty containers or spoons) has their very own makeshift home.

We have these cool but slightly crooked-door built-in cabinets between the living room and dining room. The living room side houses DVDs (perfect size) and one of the dining room ones holds decorative stuff. Awhile back, however, I cleaned out the final cabinet and decided it would be all Had’s.

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It isn’t much, but finding a space that’s his very own is awesome. Oh, and he’s also only getting into my cabinets a fraction as much as he used to and he hardly gets into those “no, don’t touch” places as much. And, yes. We sucked at toddler-proofing.

I still hope to create a mini kitchen area for him in some future playroom, but for now, this spot doubles as an oven, a pantry, a fridge, and more. Pretty much whatever his mind comes up with, which is incredible.

What are some tricks that you’ve used to contain the clutter or give your little one some space that’s his/her own? I love seeing alcoves and bedroom closets transformed into little nooks just for them to play in, too. So cool!

Holidays, the Simplified and Low-Stress Way

It’s probably no secret how excited I am about the holiday season this year. November is a crazy-arse month in our household, but we’re all really looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas (including the build-up to it). New Year’s maybe a little bit, but the whole holiday thing has us downright bouncy.

Last year, it was a different picture. I always enjoy listening to the Christmas carols, and seeing the magic through Hadman’s eyes last year was uplifting, but for some reason I just wasn’t super into it. We all have years like that, don’t we? It’s one of the reasons I wrote this little ditty about getting into the spirit of the thing.
The holiday season can clearly be a super stressful time. The gift that should’ve come a week ago that still hasn’t arrived. Trying to give that one impossible-to-shop-for person the best gift in the world. A million things to do and only this many days to do them. Traditions you want to uphold. Happiness you want to spread. Food you want to make.

I get it, I do. But, the last couple of years with a kiddo around have also helped me to take a few steps back and evaluate the situation. One lesson I did learn last year, especially since it was our first year with a very mobile child who was “getting” the idea of things more, was how to simplify. Since I wasn’t super into it and I was a pretty tired new-ish mama, I put in the bare minimum to get the most out of it. It was still a special, memorable, nice year, so this year I hope to maintain the simplicity, but with a touch more joy and magic.

Here today are the things I learned that perhaps you can try, too. 🙂

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Pick and choose.

This is the first step, and it’s a biggie. Make a list of all the things you do (or think you should do) for the holidays and give them a deep, hard look. How many of the things do you HAVE to do? Which ones do you and your family look forward to? Are there any things that you can do but on a much lesser scale? Which of the things are you doing out of obligation, either to just maintain a tradition or because you feel guilt-ridden to do it? Take a red pen to the list. Feel free to do this with your significant other or even bring your kids in on the conversation. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) attachment they have to certain things.

While you’re at it, lower your stress level by making one long (or short!) gift list to keep tabs on what you’ve gotten or still need to buy. I keep mine on Google Docs to avoid any inadvertent surprise-ruining moments, along with how much I’ve spent on each item (budget, people!).

Deck the halls!

Decorating for the holidays can be a super fun thing…or a major drag. This advice may sound like more work, but it really does help: pick a theme. Look at all your ornaments. Do they look like a mismatch of fun family interests and classic-looking ornaments? Embrace it by creating a 1950s-style of decor. Sprinkle your favorite ornaments around your home or on a plate/bowl as a centerpiece (add some greenery or a candle in the middle and it’ll look totally intentional), hang a festive pendant banner or wool ball garland (how fun!) and you’re done.

Or, do you have plenty of different colored ornaments floating around? Pick a two or three color theme and stick with it. Last year, we had an outdoorsy/winter wonderland sort of theme, along with extra branches of greenery from the tree, scarves to decorate the tree and along tables, and neutral and brown colors around the house. It was simple, yet warm, and helped me feel less overwhelmed, feeling like I didn’t need to use ALL the decorations in storage.

You can also throw all caution to the wind and pick out your absolute favorites. Who cares if things don’t totally match? Do what will make your heart sing every time you look around!

With Every Christmas Card I Write…
While evaluating your usual holiday to-do list, ask yourself if writing Christmas cards is a must-do. Aside from being eco-friendly to skip this task, it’s a huge task off your list. It’s never just writing the cards; it’s finding and buying them, buying stamps, tracking down updated addresses…you know the drill.

So, ask yourself: Do I feel totally weighed down by this task, or do I enjoy it? Do I feel guilty every time a Christmas card arrives from someone I didn’t write to, or does it just touch my heart that I was thought of fondly? Are there people on my list whom I’ve lost touch with; can I whittle down the list? Can I simplify the process with personalized pictures of our family with pre-written greetings? How many of my friends are online and could be forwarded a family photo and greeting instead of a card?

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we do cards (we always do them, but we strangely enjoy it), we always write a few sentences; we’re old school like that. I’m not a fan of just signing our names or sending a personalized family card with pre-typed messages, but there is nothing, NOTHING wrong with anyone who does it this way! It’s all about simplifying the tons of holiday tasks that weigh us down.

Even if you shave ten people off your list, it saves you some time. And, if all else fails, we like to do our cards over some hot tea or cocoa while watching our favorite Christmas movies after the little guy goes to bed. Making it a relaxing experience while getting in the holiday mood with Jimmy Stewart or Charlie Brown helps a lot.

Cookie Monster

Ohhhh, Christmas cookies. What a quandary this one is in our household. See, I was raised making tons of cookies (and pretty enjoyably so), eating them and sharing them with neighbors and…yeah. That was my thing. But, Dave (who thinks that chocolate chip is a holiday cookie, I kid you not) doesn’t really eat them and Hadley’s 50/50. And, wouldn’t ya know, all the batches create a million cookies each. Grr.

But, I don’t want to give it up. Instead, I make one type that I particularly like and one that I know the family will actually eat, including some form of cut-outs for Hadley to help with. This year, I may hook up with my mom so that we bake together and split the batches; she’s in a similar position.

So, my advice is to A) divide and conquer (hook up with friends/family to bake together and split the results – I way prefer this to a cookie exchange, but you can do that, too), B) simplify the amount of cookies you’ll be making down to your favorite, C) FREEZE what you can (frosting doesn’t always freeze well, so frost after, but if you bake some NOW and defrost some as you need them, it’ll save you time later), and D) gift what you make to letter carriers/teachers/neighbors/anyone!

Entertaining vs. Obligations

There’s a big difference between enjoyable entertaining and fulfilling obligations to hang out. Even before we were parents, we weren’t big goer-outers (formal term, yup) and cherished our down time to work on projects or just hang out watching a favorite holiday movie. We LOVE hanging out with our loved ones A LOT, but have long since figured out that we just need to stretch out the frequency of hang-outs, especially after the little guy came along. If that means saying ‘no, thanks’ to an invitation or two, so be it.

The idea of “entertaining” also needs to be analyzed. Are you going to do a huge rivals-Thanksgiving feast when a few friends are coming over just to hang out for awhile? Or can you do a simple meal or a few basic, delicious snacks with a festive beverage? Remember that your friends and family are coming for your company, not for your level of decoration or fanciness.   

Finding Inspiration

I love Pinterest, but between the fact that my family lovingly puts me in my “who do you think you are, Martha Stewart?” place if I go overboard and the fact that Pinterest Perfectionism is a real, honest-to-goodness disease that I’d prefer not to catch, I take it with a grain of salt. I think that’s the best way to do it, really.

So, I pick my bits of inspiration – maybe one new recipe to try out or a neat homemade gift idea that doesn’t contain too many steps – but I don’t try to Pinterest-ify an entire shindig (or an entire holiday, for that matter!). After all, that’s FAR too much pressure to put on a very average person like me, and it’s definitely not the reason for getting together in the first place. It’s just not. 😉


This is a big one for parents of little ones, but we can all stand to look at our gift-giving practices to see if they can be put on a little diet, too. People have been reeling in the toy-giving, which we appreciate (it still happens, of course, and we want folks to enjoy buying for the little guy, but his first Christmas was insanely overboard). This year, though, Dave and I set a smaller budget for ourselves (along with a “one free gift” idea), and a bit for Hadman, too.

My side of the family has also decided to stop our Secret Santa tradition and just get for the four grandkids and my parents. It already feels pretty weird not to get for someone (a sibling or in-law), so who knows? Maybe we’ll reinstate it. But, either way, it’s a good way to have your family cut back — do a Secret Santa where you’re only getting for one person rather than 8 or 10 (or more). It also adds a fun element to gift-opening, figuring out who got whom.

It truly is about the time spent together, or the exchange of experiences rather than stuff, stuff, stuff. Oh, and since you will inevitably be shopping, make it far simpler on yourself and do as much as you can online. Believe me. Isn’t shopping in PJs far more relaxed? (Please. Don’t shop publicly this way. That was my high school look; we don’t have to go there again.)

Traditions or Burdens?
There’s a long list of holiday activities that you and your family can join in when celebrating the holiday season. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that list growing ever longer and even more complicated. Elf on a Shelf? Complex advent calendar activities?  
Chat with your significant other to see which things matter most. We’ve finally settled between real and fake tree (our fake one bit the big one a couple of years ago, so the last two yes-with-a-baby-around years we bought real), so since it’s something we’ve decided to make into a tradition, we’ll stick with it. In other words, if it’s important to you, keep doing it. If it’s not (or you find that it’s not worth the time you put into it — like those eight types of cookies that no one eats, or the real tree that you have to vacuum up after twice a day, not that that happens #okaysometimes), make a concerted effort to purge it from your holiday routine. And don’t mourn the loss too much, it zaps valuable energy you could spend having fun.

Speaking of Which… Schedule fun!
Remember how I said that November is a wackadoo month at school for me? It goes far too quickly and is spent prepping for and putting on a Book Fair, in addition to getting ready for Thanksgiving and trying to get holiday shopping underway (luckily, I don’t host Thanksgiving, so that helps a lot right now, although I make an equivalent meal at a different time…mmmm, leftovers). So, at such a nutty time, my husband and I try to schedule in a couple of dates, or dinners/meet-ups with friends who recharge our batteries, whom we haven’t seen in awhile, and we truly look forward to our time with family at Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving, we also get a sitter so that Dave and I can spend about half (or more) of the day getting some shopping done together. We figure out our Christmas cards (still unsure about buying or having some family ones made up this year), do some shopping for the monkey and other folks on our lists, and grab a quiet bite to eat. It’s an awesome, calm tradition that lets us focus on ourselves and our little family and the happiness of the season ahead.

When December hits, we also put IN PEN certain events that we look forward to annually (like when he meets up with an old co-worker/friend to read “The Polar Express” to kids and our annual trek to see THE Santa). Simple things like a drive to a local Christmas light show on a random evening or remembering that cookie-baking with a toddler can be a fun activity rather than a “gotta get it done” chore. You can keep the fun times to a minimum or pile them on, depending on how you and your family are feeling.

Because, at the end of all the stressful times that the holidays bring, isn’t it really all about having fun with the ones you love, finding gratefulness for your blessings, and doing more for those who are lacking?

Learning + Toddlers = Fun

For those a bit late to the party, I’m an educator by trade. (Some might say that a school librarian isn’t an educator, but dudes…I educate.) While I have no idea whether this is my lifelong calling, it’s definitely something I strive to do on a daily basis, whether the kids are in my classes or under my own roof.

But, when you have a two-year-old (or any toddler or kiddo, for that matter), it’s not always practical or realistic to have nice sit-down lessons. At this age, it’s all about making things palatable, like hiding veggies in meals and smothering things with cheese. (We all do it, guys, there’s no shame here.) Life’s also all about fun (as it should be), and it can be surprising what simple things kids can deem as a good ol’ time.

So, today I’m here with a few tips on fitting some simple, fun learning into your little one’s day. Even if you just pick out one or two to try here and there, you can feel a little bit better about the amount of times he’s watched the same Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat. (Or, in our house, Duck Tales and Mickey Christmas Carol. Yep. It is what it is.)

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Use toys as learning tools. We tend to over-think the early learning process. Simple is totally best at this stage. So, things like simple mathematical concepts are totally doable. “Let’s count how many farm animals you have!” (Depending on his/her stage, count along. Hadman’s great up until 13, but then repeats it several times and skips to 17. We’re working on it. ;-)) You could also line up four Legos, have him count them, then take one away and ask how many are left. Simple addition/subtraction like this will get his mind thinking in a different, problem-solving way than basic counting.

Magnet letters are my BFF. I need to buy another set since he’s used the crud out of these (read: half are missing), but our Melissa and Doug magnetic letters LIVE on the fridge. Recently while waiting to get packed up, Hadley had a bunny toy and a stuffed baby doll in his hands. We named what they were (“bunny” and “baby”) and while making the “B” sound several times, I asked him what letter they start with. He ran to the fridge and immediately started to search for the “B.” I’ve found my favorite new game, folks, and he LOVES getting claps and hugs for correct answers. Believe it or not, toddlers are people pleasers. 

Potty time is learning time. Let’s face it: waiting for potty to come out is a boring (sometimes excruciating) job. Turn it into a fun time by reading short board books together, doing a rhyming game, learning “patty cake” (Had can now do it all by himself. My proud mama heart bursts!), singing the alphabet, naming the parts of the body, and more. When I do the alphabet, I’ll pause for him to say the next letter, or lately we’ve even started trying to name things that start with the letter sound. Vowels are a challenge since they take on the sound of the letter following it (for example, “elephant” sounds like “L”), but moments like “What starts with an ‘M’?” “MAMA!!!” are awesome. (This tip goes for bath time and commutes, too.)

Never too early to read. Okay, so maybe you’re not like us. Maybe you don’t have a bedtime routine down yet. Maybe you thought your infant was too little to start reading to. It’s totally okay! Just know that it’s NEVER too early or late to read with your little one. There are so many studies touting the importance of early reading — that they feel love and security in the routine and one-on-one time, they learn the proper care and use of books (modeling how to turn the page properly and that we can’t turn the page until we’ve finished reading all the words), that books can teach AND entertain us…the list goes on. Establishing the routine also helps them settle down and learn expectations for each night; in other words, we have very little divergence from the regular routine (once in awhile I’ll bring him a sippy cup of water, but even that is pretty rare). Another awesome side effect? Seeing how their personal preferences and interests develop.

Give art meaning. I often draw a holiday symbol as a little coloring sheet to mix up our usual Sesame Street coloring activities, but you can take this a step further. Give your little one a sheet of white paper and ask them to draw something and describe it. (Sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a full sentence.) Then, either write the sentence/phrase below the picture or post it on a piece of construction paper with a separate sentence strip below it. Show this to your child and read the sentence. You could also do the same with plenty of seasonal or concept-driven themes. For example, an apple stamping and write a fact from an apple book (or a basic fact like “Apples come from apple trees.”) to create a sense of importance to the art, but also teach a simple lesson.

Can’t say enough about independent play. I’ve heard that boys are better at this than girls, but I also feel that it depends on their environment. Hadley is, for the most part, an only child (aside from pets). He’s the only little one at his grandma’s house during the day. He’s the only little one at home, for now. While we do play with him often, he’s quite content to seek out his own time to play and pretend. I, however, was the fourth and youngest child in my family. I was used to having people play with me, so as I got older and they weren’t into my little kid games anymore, it stung and I had a very hard time playing independently. I truly believe that a greater imagination is developing in our little guy, as well as additional skills that I may not have been blessed with. People need to know how to be alone, how to occupy themselves happily, how to have an internal dialogue. I truly think it leads to deeper thinking and connecting, so I’m happy that our buddy is so happy doing this.

If you have more than one child, it’s AWESOME for them to play together – don’t get me wrong! They need that social interaction and to learn the ebb and flow of proper communication. However, trying out alone time (even if a couple times a week for a short period of time) will help them to develop this additional those imaginative, independent-thinking skills.

Kinetic play is just as important as the alphabet. We haven’t done a ton of this, but have just recently started to get into it. Let’s just say he LOVES it. We’ve been using traditional Play-Doh (I know! An eco-mama who doesn’t make her own flour-based solution?! Blasphemous!) and he adores squishing and poking his fingers in. He’s amazed by the rudimentary dinosaurs, heads, and other animals we make for him to play with — to think, he’s completely non-judgmental of poor artistic ability. (Dave’s awesome at it, though.) Getting hands-on gets neurons in his brain moving that haven’t hopped, skipped and danced before. I’m thinking of making a SIMPLE seasonal sensory box to up the fun (and brain activity).

Don’t be afraid to make a mess. This one can apply to the Play-Doh or any other artistic activity…or, heck, play, for that matter. It’s just not worth obsessing over a train track that takes over your entire living room floor or the fact that the paint project your kid’s mastering also includes painting every. single. finger. Besides, it’s not what life’s about. At any given moment, we have cat toys, random Little People and play food strewn about or stuck in unexpected storage spots. It is what it is. Visit anytime. 😉

That said, now’s a good time to teach responsibility. Yup, we can make a mess. It’s totally cool. But, we’re hitting on the “don’t play with the next thing until you pick up the last thing” rule in our house. We’re trying to keep it low-key and relatively fun, though, by making it a team effort. Sure, the kiddo is the one who made the mess in the first place, but by teaming up and helping him it seems like a) a more manageable task and b) almost FUN! “Let’s see how many puzzle pieces we can each put away!” or “Hadley, I forgot where the train pieces go. Can you show me, please?” can be a good starter.

Or, if your little one hasn’t started “helping out” yet, start by explaining the reasons. We already have, and he’s catching on a little at a time. Making them aware of a mess is the first step, stating that it’s okay but that it needs to be picked up is the next step, then just getting them to put ONE toy away is the final. Moving from this stage will happen gradually but surely, and the day that your child puts ONE toy away without argument seriously feels like you won the lottery. SIDE NOTE: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood uses a great, short clean-up song that we sometimes sing to make it fun. Some moms hate these songs, but I’m a Daniel junky.  

What about you guys? Any tips to add to the list?

“We Need a Little Christmas”

Everyone has their own idea of when the Christmas/holiday season starts. Some say the day after Thanksgiving. Others don’t want to hear a single carol before December 1st. Still others are happy to deck the halls when the last Halloween treat is handed out. And none of these are wrong.

We all celebrate so differently, the bickering about it is unkind and rather silly. If you don’t want to hear the songs already, don’t listen to that radio station. If you don’t want to see the decorations being sold at your favorite store, veer that cart in another direction. No harm. But, ultimately, think about what’s being celebrated – good will on Earth! What’s wrong with folks getting into it when they’re not doing anything mean-spirited or hurtful? Nada. Do it when YOU want to and never mind the naysayers. (That said, my mood wanes depending on the year. I don’t like going nuts too early because it’s easy to get burnt out by it by, say, December 16th.)

So, what do you do if Thanksgiving has come and gone and you’re still not ready for jingling bells and Santa hats? Try one of my low-key ways to start getting into the holiday spirit.

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1. Go shopping. I don’t mean for your gifts; that’s oftentimes an express highway to stress. (See below for shopping ideas that don’t suck.) Nope! Grab a holiday latte or some such treat and go to your favorite discount shop to stock up on your gift wrap and bags. Slowly and thoughtfully select your Christmas cards. Maybe pick a fun new decoration or two.

I find that thinking about the theme I’ll be wrapping my goodies in helps, especially when there’s a little holiday music playing in the background. Making it a relaxing errand helps you focus on the joy of the task rather than the million items you need to get.

2. Make your lists. This one may also sound stressful, but if you start early, this can be relaxing and even a bit fun. See, you’re not under a time crunch, and lists often help us feel organized and can definitely provide a sense of calm. Keeping them on your phone or Google Docs/Drive can keep them at-hand (and keep people from accidentally “finding” them), too.

First, I made my own wishlist (I talked about how it can help reduce some stress here). Look through your closet, think about the things you truly need, and daydream about what it might be nice to get. Cozy up with some cocoa, a blankie, and your favorite website (for example, West Elm or Target for me) and jot down what you’d like. Don’t worry about making it too lengthy; your gifters can pick what they want to get you and leave the rest.

Then, I used the same relaxed method to start brainstorming for my friends and family. Whether I could think of something to give or not, I wrote their names down to avoid forgetting them. Some folks sat there for a week with nothing popping up — others, I came up with five things for! I won’t be buying all that stuff, but I wrote them down just in case I need a birthday or Mothers’ Day idea later on.

Oh, and for a couple of people I was absolutely stumped on, I sent out a quick email. I’d much rather give them something they’d like (that’s not the biggest surprise) rather than a bad gift.

3. Listen to your favorite Christmas song. Everyone – EVERYONE – has a favorite Christmas song. Heck, I’ve got a handful. But, it’s not the holiday season for me until I hear “Sleigh Ride” (Boston Pops version, please). See? Everyone has their trigger song. I can’t help but bounce in the seat like a 5-year-old when I hear it, especially at the jazzy section.

I don’t mean “turn on the radio and deal with the crappy songs you hate” (I’m talking to you, Mannheim Steamroller), but just listen to that one awesome song you already know you love, then stop there. I often find myself getting totally sick of the constant rotation of songs early, so I have to take it in small doses. In the meantime, my favorite tune brightens my heart and gets me excited about the whole thing. Every. Single. Time.

4. Watch a low-fat version of a Christmas movie. Some holiday movies hit you over the head with the meaning of the season or take place totally around Christmas. Others, however, can be deemed Christmas movies only because one scene takes place on the special day. Watching one of these “Christmas Lite” movies can be just enough to pick up your Christmas spirit.

This time of year, I often gravitate to “Holiday Inn” (it’s about most of the holidays, not just Christmas), “Little Women” (definitely not a holiday movie, but a couple important scenes occur on Christmas), “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a handful of other classic flicks that just have one or two Christmas scenes. Make sure you pick one that you know you’ll enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re up for it, watch a “full-fat” Christmas movie to REALLY get your spirit going. For me, “Elf” and “The Polar Express” make me super jolly.

5. Bake cookies. Again, don’t go overboard. Pick one of your favorite recipes — one that’s come down from your beloved grandmother or that you look forward to tasting every year — and make a batch. If you make a super huge batch, freeze them. Boom. One less you’ll have to make when you get invited to a cookie exchange. But, be sure to treat yourself to one (or, ahem, five); that’s the point of the thing.

If you’re in the mood, get a couple of types done before the hectic holiday schedule hits. Taking them from the freezer next month is way less stressful than baking all of them at once!

6. Put out some neutral decorations. Sprinkle a bit of decor around that can double for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find that deer, branches, pine cones, white candles, apples and oranges, and grapevine wreaths can help make the area feel super festive.

Then, as you get more excited, you can add some more greenery, lights, and ornaments (I even use some warm weather knit clothes like vintage mittens or scarves), do your tree, and it’s done. Simple! 

7. Follow your nose. Try filling the house with the smells of the season and see if your heart follows. For me, scent is the biggest mood enhancer, so it only makes sense to try this one out!

You can light a festive candle (we’re currently using a pumpkin one I received as a gift, so it’s not too Christmasy) or make your own homemade concoction to fill your house with the warm, cozy smell of the season. Try boiling some cinnamon sticks and clove (even include some apple and orange peels) in some water, then simmer on low. Grab a cup of cocoa and a book, and you’ll be in the Christmas mood in no time. 

8. Shop locally. Ease into your shopping responsibilities by starting at a local place, well before Black Friday. The crowds will be far thinner, the traffic will be a tad less dangerous (you know what I mean!), and you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief at least checking one present off your list.

But, why do I suggest the local edge? It’s more emotional, in a good way. As you probably know, we’re not huge Wal-mart (or huge corporation) fans, so I do enjoy hitting up, say, our local toy shoppe before trying Toys ‘R Us. Plus, knowing that I’m supporting a local company definitely makes me feel much better about the money I’m spending. 

9. Shop online. Wait, didn’t I just say to shop locally? Why, yes. Yes, I did. But, if you’re still not ready to venture out into the crowds, this is the next best thing. And, guess what! I’ve already started this way.

PJs. A cozy blanket. Hot tea or cocoa. A favorite show or movie in the background. And getting some stuff crossed off your list? Perfect combination. Low-stress shopping, and you can get a head-start. I always open the package to check for damage (and to know what came), then put the whole thing directly in my closet until I have energy for wrapping.

10. Start giving early. This is something we should actually do year-round, but the holidays are a particularly difficult time for folks, families and even animals who find themselves in need. And, honestly, what warms your heart more than knowing you’re making a difference?

While you’re out grocery shopping, pick up some inexpensive (but healthy ;-)) canned goods to donate to a local shelter. Check the ads and grab some dog and/or cat food and cleaning supplies (I “follow” our local humane society to see what their immediate needs are — they almost always include bleach). Grab one or two of the latest toys so that you’re ready to “Stuff the Bus” when the time comes. Part prep, part goodwill, all fun.   

11. Last but not least, celebrate the “now.” If you’re still not ready to get into the Christmas spirit, don’t push it. It’s not a big deal. Some years go by and I find myself not feeling the magic at all. Not. One. Bit. It happens. Then, other years, I’m ready and raring to go.

But, I do suggest that you take time to celebrate SOMETHING. If it’s not the joy of Christmas, maybe it’s taking the time to give thanks – truly – for things both big and small. Maybe make a list of all you’re grateful for. Other times, just a reread (or rewatch) of A Christmas Story is enough to get us out of a Scroogy funk.

A Simple Tip to Get Less Stuff This Christmas

It’s officially November. While I can appreciate the wishes of folks to push Christmas off until after Thanksgiving, I’m determined and excited to start planning and preparing early, shopping and wrapping early, and ultimately enjoying the holiday season in a far less stressful, more meaningful way.

So, today’s little holiday simplification tip starts with me. Or you. In other words, this is as much for you as it is the people who will be buying for you.

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For the past *counts on fingers* um, several Christmases, I found myself looking under the tree at a couple piles of things I’d received. They were all purchased with a high level of love and thoughtfulness, I’m sure. A bunch were from my husband; others were from my mother and mother-in-law, and a couple were from other friends or family. And, admittedly, about 1/2 of it (sometimes less), I liked. Like, at all.

The guilt of unappreciativeness is rough. I’m always so grateful when I receive a gift, sometimes overly so, even if it’s something I’m not keen about. I’m a bit of a people-pleaser in that way; I hate hurting someone’s feelings, so why bring it up? But, so much ends up in the donate pile or just sitting, taking up precious space, going unused…and I feel horrible about it. 

So, this year, I made my Christmas list early. Or, at least, early by my standards. My mom probably would’ve preferred it in July. Heck, there was a time (when I clearly only shopped for a few people) when I got my shopping done before September. True story.

Anyhoo, yeah. On my list, Dave asked me to write down EVERYTHING I want, even if it’s a bit of a fantastic idea. I still feel like I have a couple of small, unimportant things to add to it, but for the most part, it’s solid. Tons of stuff I know I won’t get (too expensive), and secure knowing that I’ll probably get a couple. Or maybe I’ll at least get some money towards that more expensive stuff to save up for. Either way, all appreciated stuff. 

And, regardless, you can’t stop people from buying you random crap. You just can’t. I wish I could put out a big ol’ billboard on a local highway that says, “Seriously. I’d prefer a gift card to West Elm or Target. Love, Meg.” ‘Cause I really would.

By the way, I think one reason that I made a list with purpose this year is that the past few years I haven’t put much thought into what I wanted. I’ve truly only desired the, “All I want is everyone to be happy and healthy” and “just happy moments with the family” wishes for Christmas, so I’m sure this is why I’ve got unwanted stuff. With Hadman around, we’ve become even less materialistic (kid…crap…multiplies), and just time well spent with him is by far the best present I could have. It still is. I even jotted that down (along with Dave’s happiness, in all honesty) on the list. It’s true. And we both hate asking for ANY thing in the first place. If we all decided to buy a little less (both of our moms tend to get a lot), it would probably help the percentages, too. 😉

So, anyway, detailed list (even organized by clothes, entertainment (books/DVDs/etc), housewares, awesomeness “dream” items) + plenty of time for the giftee = far less crap to figure out where to go this Christmas. Hence the simplification. 😉 Otherwise, vague list (or no list at all) = too much stuff you don’t want.   

What about you guys? Do you know what you want? Are you keeping it simple this year? Have you already created your list? Are you still in a candy coma and would prefer I not even be talking about the “C” word yet? 😉

My next step is to finalize what I’m getting everyone else. Dave gave me his list, as did my mother, and Hadley’s is a constant work in progress. So, it’s the fun time where I have to truly figure out things for the people I’m clueless about. Any suggestions accepted and welcome!